Though efforts to improve the quality of life for African-Americans are as old as the United States, the fight for equality really ramped up in the 1950s and 60s. That fight, we know as the Civil Rights era.
In the first of her four part series “Soul of the Coast,” News 25’s Victoria Bailey speaks to a woman instrumental in breaking down barriers in her community.
“We know we should forgive and forget, but it’s hard to not remember the things and the way we were treated so long ago.” Meet Doris Smith. Originally from Monroeville, Alabama, she moved to Moss Point in 1960, in the middle of what most of the nation considered a racial explosion. “I got married here and had my children here. Well, immediately you knew that everything was segregated.”
Wanting to influence change in her new community, just like she saw in other parts of the country, Smith joined the NAACP, but even in that alliance, African-Americans feared making their voices heard. “At the time they were going under Christian Leadership because they were afraid to speak out and say they were a member of an organization like the NAACP. My husband and I started working with this group, but later we asked them to take the money out of the bank under Christian Leadership and let it be known that we were the NAACP.”
Going up against the strict laws of Jim Crow, historically, came at a high cost in so many areas. “We earned the right to vote by having a lot of people killed because the establishment didn’t want us to vote. When I went to register to vote, I registered in Jackson County. They told me we had to recite an article of the Constitution, in fact we had to take this test and we had to pay poll tax.”
As the Civil Rights Era pressed on, most nights, families throughout the nation turned on TV sets to images of Americans being denied service at lunch counters, being beaten, while angry mobs tossed food on them. Smith says things weren’t much different for black people here on the Coast. “We went on down to Burnham’s and it was right at lunch time. There were a lot of people in there getting lunch and we sat down in one of the booths in the store. We asked could we get a hot dog. The server said ‘no we don’t serve coloreds here.’ We were like could we just get a hot dog? She said, “NO NO NO NO! We don’t want to serve you here.’ So then we asked for the manager and went to speak to him and of course he didn’t give us a reason except he just rather not serve us. So then we went back to the group and reported this and we did a very effective boycott of that store.”
Segregation was no stranger to the Moss Point workplace. But Smith says she comes from a long family of hard working dedicated people, citing her mother as her inspiration. Smith began working in 1969 for a company called Thiokol today known as Morton International. “I was the first black to integrate the work space there in the office, in administration. Of course, they were told before I arrived they would have to share their water fountain and they would have to share their break room with me.”
With 60 years of working hard alongside other dedicated African-Americans, Smith says it is important for the youth to continue to carry the torch of change into the future. “I’m hoping that the future generation that we have will go back to searching for things because they’ve had it so easy and they don’t know about the things we did in the past. They just accept things for how they are now and enjoy it. But there was a serious struggle in Mississippi.”